Obama And Kennedy: A Contrast In Styles

At his Atlantic Correspondents blog, David Shenk contrasts the political and oratory styles of President Obama and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy:

Kennedy was a lion. It was his great roar of passion that so often won over constituents and colleagues.

Obama is a famously cool cat. While sharing many of Kennedy's political goals, his oratory is built on reason and clarity. He employs low-voltage words that aim to stimulate our frontal cortex, the part of our brain that considers, compares, and calculates what's best for our future. Obama obviously believes deeply in the power of this rational oratory, and with the help of his extraordinary chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, has turned precision and clarity into an art form.

Shenk wonders if the Democrats need a lion, not a cool cat, to pass health care reform--whether the campaign against reform can be defeated by Obama's frontal-lobe rationality, his cool, platonic appeal--a style that, according to Shenk, could lift our political discourse if it succeeds. It's a question that pits passion against reason.

Health care might be more about Obama trying to navigate this stylistic problem than anything else--and it might be why this debate has been so difficult, both for President Obama and his supporters. What they liked about him during the campaign may not fit with the zeitgeist of the health care debate. In fact, Obama added some fire and brimstone to his pitch earlier this summer.

But let's not forget the passion of Obama. His speeches in the 2008 campaign rallied massive crowds with impassioned rhetoric--that's what put him on the map in the first place. If Obama has been too airy and reasoned during health care, as Shenk begins to suggest, then perhaps the story is about him returning to his proven skill.

At least there's no public griping among Democrats, at this point, that Hillary Clinton would have done better.